Before I got into the divorce process, I figured it must be relatively easy since half of all marriages end in divorce. As I have gone through it, I realize that it’s difficult for everyone – it’s just that those half of marriages involved people who went through some serious struggles and came out on the other side. My perspective comes from my experience – I’m not an attorney and I can’t give legal advice. However, there are some absolute truths I have found from going through this arduous, time-consuming, exhausting, and expensive process.
It seems obvious, but if you can at all avoid it, DO NOT FILE FOR DIVORCE. Try and work with your future ex-spouse out of court. Put the word “dissolution” into your vocabulary. Many options exist, such as mediation and collaborative divorce. Both of these involve you and your spouse or you and your spouse’s attorneys (or a combination, usually) with a neutral court official (mediator) who knows the law and can encourage you both to work together on a plan similar to what the judge in your county would adjudicate but without having to go through all the pain and difficulty of taxing an extremely overloaded family court system or straining your mental and financial health.
The court system states that it wants to help families.
However, its first actual responsibility is to the people and the law. Potentially the law as written might not benefit you or be a good fit for your family. Even if it is, you will potentially spend thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of dollars just to go through the system. Empower yourself to know what the law affords for you in your county. Find an attorney that is well-regarded by the court and a mediator that the court would recommend as a first point of contact. Work with those people OUT OF COURT. Pay to send your kids to college instead of paying to send your attorney’s kids to college.
For those of you married to high-conflict individuals, you will probably have to go through the system. Sometimes it’s not about solving a problem – some people want to see you squirm as you go broke, wondering if you will give up the fight so they can get what they want. Don’t let them get what they want. Be smart about your approach.
- Document everything. Start keeping a log (either written or electronic) of all communications, behaviors, how your kids are doing at school, how they are after they spend time with the other parent, if there are co-parenting issues, etc.
- On this topic, I’d recommend asking the court to mandate the use of a court communications app. There are a few nice ones out there. The best features of these apps include allowing all court officials to read the communications at any time. Messages can’t be deleted and events posted on the calendar can’t be deleted. There’s a time stamp on all messages. You can also see when the other spouse reads the message so there’s no excuse of, “Sorry I didn’t see where you told me to pick up the kids after soccer,” or whatever.
- Focus on the facts whenever talking to the court, including your guardian ad litem. Talk about the dates you took the children to see their service providers and your involvement with that (dentist, pediatrician, therapist, or similar).
- Do NOT under ANY circumstance speak negatively of your future ex-spouse. Nobody likes that. The court hates that, the guardian ad litem will get suspicious of YOU, no matter how scuzzy your spouse actually is. This will also seriously mess up your kids for a variety of reasons if they are able to hear you speaking badly of their other parent. Save it for therapy! Focus on the facts, the documentation you have, and what they have written down (hopefully on a court app) that is not in the interest of co-parenting. Let the facts paint the picture. Your opinion should be, “I really want to work with them and my goal is to make the best of the relationship for our kids.”
- Definitely DO get a therapist. There are some neat divorce support groups out there as well. A support group isn’t a substitute for a therapist, though. It’s best to talk to the therapist about your frustrations and not offload on family and friends who will probably also have to see and interact with your ex-spouse and/or your kids for 18 years. Your kids don’t want to hear family and friends speaking badly about their parent either, no matter what that parent has done. That parent represents 50% of their identity and is a gender role identifier for them. If they hate half of their identity, how damaging is that?
- Definitely DO get your kids a therapist. Play therapists are available to work with young children. Be proactive and find your kids’ therapists right away. They will want someone to offload on who is a professional helper and who is not a parent or family member.
- You will almost definitely lose some parenting time, potentially to a large degree, in comparison to what you’re used to. Again, this is where the therapist comes in. If it is best for your kids, try and cope the best you can. Remember that you are sacrificing to help your children live a stable life free of conflict. They’ll do better and you’ll flourish as well if it’s the best fit for the family overall.
- Remember that child support is money that helps the children. Happily fork over whatever you are being asked to give. Don’t argue. You will embarrass yourself. Maintain your dignity. Your kids will admire your strength and kindness when they become adults.
You will always be the only mother or father your children will ever have. No one can replace your role in their life. Make the most of it by respecting your co-parent. Maintain neutrality instead of being angry or disdainful toward the other parent or their actions.